Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert, a 4.0 Student, is Ready to Study Team’s New Offense

Justin Herbert was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year for 2020. Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Justin Herbert always wanted to know the why and how about the world around him.

It ran in the family. Both his grandfather and father were biologists, so the young Herbert felt drawn to natural-science studies throughout his formative years and academic career.

“It just explained how everything worked,” Herbert, coming off his first season as quarterback of the Los Angeles Chargers, told USA TODAY Sports. “Everything you see around you has a reason, and whether it’s how you breathe or how your cells work together, it’s always been really interesting.”

The thirst for answers drove Herbert in the classroom through college, where as a three-time Academic All-American, he graduated from Oregon with a degree in biology and a 4.01 grade-point average. But he credits his parents’ emphasis on academics and cultivating his mental makeup for his success on the football field.

The 6-6, 241-pound quarterback clearly possesses exceptional physical talent.

After taking over as the Chargers’ starter in Week 2, he orchestrated a rookie of the year campaign that saw him break NFL rookie records for the most passing touchdowns (31) and completions (396).

But the mental strength – learning and reacting quickly, poise, preparedness – ultimately elevated Herbert. As he aims to follow up that impressive rookie campaign with an offseason of growth, despite a wave of organizational change, he’ll have to lean heavily on his studious habits.

A new crew

The offseason following a rookie year traditionally represents a crucial developmental period for quarterbacks. But outside of the experiences gained from playing this past season, Herbert will have very little continuity to build upon in Year 2. Instead, he must spend this time learning a new coaching staff, a new offense and new terminology.

However, Herbert views his budding relationships with new head coach Brandon Staley with excitement, and views the 38-year-old coach’s unconventional background as an asset.

(Staley started two seasons at quarterback for the University of Dayton from 2003-04 before getting into coaching, and he landed his first head-coaching job just four years after breaking into the NFL ranks as a defensive assistant. He served as the Rams’ defensive coordinator in 2020 before the crosstown Chargers hired him as head coach in January.)

“He’s been awesome so far,” Herbert said. “… He’s a defensive coach, but he also played quarterback so he knows both sides of the ball, so whether I want to talk to him about offense or defense, he’s got a great feel for the game.”

Last season, COVID-19 restrictions robbed NFL teams, and rookies in particular, of the traditional offseason preparation. To make up for lost time, Herbert – who entered training camp and the regular season as the backup to Tyrod Taylor – spent additional time with then-quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton outside of practice to better learn the offense.

The goal “was to prepare as if you’re the starting quarterback, and that’s something that coach Pep Hamilton and I focused on. We’d be out on the field before practice, after practice, walking through the plays, walking through the footwork, mechanics, everything you could think about, so if and when I did have to go in, I’d be ready,” Herbert said.

As with biology, the more Herbert studied the Chargers’ playbook and defenses, he gained an understanding of the reasons why and how things worked in the NFL.

“You understand why it’s happening, why they’re doing that,” he said. “Why certain teams play certain fronts. Why they bring these pressures … When you’re up at the line of scrimmage, it has to be so quick. It just needs to be understood immediately. There’s no time to sit back and think.”

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: USA Today, Mike Jones